The Teton Range juts high into the sky from the land below. With its jagged peaks, it’s one of the most unusual and pleasing sights I’ve ever seen in a mountainous region. Fascinated by this wonder, I learned that the earth’s crust originally uplifted here some 50-60 million years ago. But 5-10 million years ago, a chunk of rocks that had formed at the base uplifted again and created the Teton range of today. It is a youthful range whose tectonic plate shifts of some of the hardest rock around are still under attack by erosion, and erosion hasn’t quite had the chance to shave its alps the way it has the more rounded mounds we are used to seeing lower to the ground. How exciting it is to know that the range continues to grow!
Sometimes we don’t need words to communicate love....
SHARING SHADOWS AND SMILES
Just like that, he woke up. After three days, Dad woke up. The heaviness that has weighed my heart down lately is gone, my step a little lighter. I feel grateful to have been able to have more time with my Dad.
This morning, I saw a man walking in the early sunshine as I drove past Forest Hill Park on the way to work. My first thought when I saw this solitary figure was I wish I was a child again. I wish my dad and I were walking in the park, holding hands and sharing shadows.
After I got to the office, I was able to focus on my work and cross things off my to-do list. I even shared a laugh or two with my colleagues.
Then the hospice nurse called again. Her comforting voice shared her stark observations. His vitals are good, but Dad is weak and tired. He’s tired. She kept saying it, like he’s tired of being here and ready to go. So, off to the nursing home I went after picking my mother up and taking her to see him. In the day room, he seemed blank in his delicate state but was able to eat the pureed meal the attendant was helping him with. As I sat in the corner, I watched as my mother took over and lovingly spoon-fed the man she has been married to for 63 years.
Afterwards, I wheeled my dad down the long hallway to his room. I told him I had to go back to get Mom and asked if he’d be alright for just a couple of minutes. His faint voice said yes. I was turning Mom's wheelchair into his room in no time, and Dad motioned with his hand as if to say, “Come on, there’s room to get around me here.” We sat and ate our fast food meal as we talked to him.
I hadn’t seen him smile in so long. It’s as if this disease has taken his emotions hostage. But there is no ransom demand and my family is left with a dim likeness. I don’t know what I was doing or what precipitated it, but I looked over to see Dad smiling. A simple, genuine joy radiated from his face. And in that moment, I felt his love for me.
We don’t know how long he will be around. We are just taking it day by day. That’s all anyone can ask for. That, to me, is a gift.
I always feared that call. The call came today. The hospice nurse was with my dad at the nursing home. He’s not responsive and may be “transitioning.” She kept talking and my mind stopped hearing, wondering what “transitioning” means. He could bounce back, she said, but he may be entering the dying phase. I felt nauseous.
In the moment before I left his bedside this afternoon, I watched him for a long moment. His body in deep slumber, his face was peaceful. Maybe he couldn’t acknowledge that I was there or respond to my words, but I think he could hear me. And no matter what selfish wishes I have in wanting him to stay here, I know I’ll have to face what's coming. I’ll have to let go.
I am that person. The one full of regret for not having paid attention to my dad’s words when I was younger. For not spending more time with him. Do I even know who he is? He’s still here. He’s still relevant. That I do know. And in trying to resolve my guilt-ridded mind — in trying to separate the tsunami of emotion that wants to drown me — I know he is everything to me.
His body is beginning to separate from the physical world. I don’t understand it and as uncomfortable as I am in knowing the end is nearing, it all seems very natural. And, as strange as it sounds, even to me, I find that very nature comforting. We are born. We live. We love. We die.
Right now, my selfish self hopes for a moment of clarity where he knows I’m there. My realistic self knows I have no control. Control doesn’t exist in the natural world. I feel like I, too, am transitioning into a place I don’t yet know how to navigate. I don’t know whether to cry or avoid thinking about it. And that’s ok. Whatever will come will come at the right time. In the meantime, I need hugs and prayers. And most of all, love.
I never saw them sit down after I boarded the train, but when I looked up, there they were. She had her back nestled into the corner with her legs propped up and resting over his. I wondered how she could find any comfort in that spot, with her back against the bars, but there must be some kind of blind spot when it comes to love. An invisible cushion that makes anything and everything bearable. Engrossed in their conversation, they didn't even notice me taking photos. This was the last one, with them holding hands before they got off the train at 14th Street. (iPhone photo)
Each time I visit my parents, I see an increase in their decline. Mom appears shorter than before and she can't hear well. Dad's a little slower, but always has a smile on his face. There is never any easy way to age when health limitations kick in. This week, my thoughts, usually filled with to-do lists of things to catch up on from cleaning to grocery shopping, are flooded with snapshots of time at home in Virginia. It's hard when you learn a parent is facing that final frontier, a place often unchartered. I feel helpless being hundreds of miles away. I struggle with the decision of when to go home. And i pray my Dad is comfortable and my Mom comforted as my brothers try to assist.
I was home for a visit only about six weeks ago and wanted to take some photos of my parents before I had to leave. Mom always hates it when I do that, feeling like she looks a hundred years old, but I convinced her to sit with Dad and let me take a few shots. Dad gently placed his hand on Mom's shoulder and I snapped away. But I was drawn to his hand and the way he protectively held my mother. My father, his mind ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer's, still has the wherewithal to show his love and affection to the woman he married 64 years ago. This, in turn, comforts me as I try to navigate this uncharted course.
This is kind of how I feel tonight. Like a heavyweight fog is keeping me from seeing anything clearly right now. I took this photo in San Francisco three weeks ago today on the ferry ride to Alcatraz. Little did I know what I’d be dealing with tonight as my family and I are faced with the possible end phase of my father’s life as he battles Alzheimer’s. He’s not eating or drinking much and I’ve heard from people that that’s how it starts. Anyway, as difficult as it is to share this, I also wonder if it's better to reach out. Maybe the fog will somehow lift and I’ll see a little better tomorrow. There’s no permanence in fog. It passes on. And the light returns.
I opened my eyes this morning, took in a deep breath and stretched my body. I smiled at the memory entering my mind on this first day of the month of April. "White rabbit!" I said out loud.
My mom doesn't drive. Luckily, her coworker, Violet, lived in the neighborhood. When I was little, there might be an occasion when I'd ride with them to the office. Violet was an Englishwoman whose accent I was fascinated with and always enjoyed hearing.
On one such ride, I listened to her conversation with Mom, who had lived in England for a number of years also, about English food. While others might think "Bangers & Mash," I was educated on "Bubble & Squeak," another mouth-watering dish of well-cooked potatoes and cabbage, made popular during World War II. I always loved hearing Vi talk about it.
Another time, Violet told me that if you say "white rabbit" on the first day of the month - it has to be the first thing you say - it will bring you luck. As a child, this fascinated me. So, I tried to do this every month, although my efforts were often futile since I would forget, having said something already before remembering it was the first day of the month. Then I'd just say it anyway!
Nowadays when I say it, I get a twinge of sadness. It's been many years since my mother and Violet both retired. They remained friends, though. They stayed in touch and sometimes Vi would pick Mom up to go shopping. Or I'd see her when I attended the annual holiday party with my mother. Or we would enjoy a mother-daughter dinner, Vi bringing one of hers along as well.
Over time, they saw less of one another. Schedules got busy or their health took downward turns. I learned that Vi's daughter had moved in to help out as she aged. Then we learned through the grapevine that Vi was moved to an assisted living facility out of town, and the house was sold.
Violet's spirit no longer roamed the neighborhood. There seemed to be a void in her place. But all these years later, I remember Violet. Every month, with fondness, I say "White rabbit."
I never get to just recline in the dark. Hearing the soothing hum of the furnace. Or the settled house still settling. The warmth of my body beneath the soft blanket. The almost light outside still dark enough to beckon sleep. The quiet. Oh, the silence that tries to convince my mind that thought is doing me no good at this time of day. The sound of my relaxed breathing and accompanying yawn is convincing enough to roll over and seek dream again. Seek just a moment more of sleep, drifting further into the veiled darkness. Until subtle brightness begs to enter my window shade. And the jolt of roaring truck engines and bird chirps make it impossible to deny a new day is here. A day I can mold and shape into anything I choose it to be. And I wonder, what shall it be today?...